Early start for bear troubles

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With too much snow at higher elevations and an abundance of food attractions in the valleys, grizzly bears and black bears have been stirring up trouble lately.

The Confederated Salish-Kootenai Tribal Wildlife Management Program reported Monday that a young female grizzly had been shot and killed by a landowner after the bear killed some chickens near Ronan.

“The shooting is under investigation,” said Pablo Espinoza, chief of Tribal Fish and Game. Grizzly bears are protected by the Endangered Species Act.

The incident occurred Saturday afternoon about three miles east of Ronan. The 2 1/2-year-old bear had killed chickens earlier that day and when it returned in the afternoon, the landowner shot and killed the bear.

“There is a huge increase in chicken production in the Mission Valley and the bears have keyed into unprotected chicken coops,” said Stacy Courville of the Tribal Wildlife Management Program, which will hold a clinic about installing electric fences to deter predators on June 8 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Cenex Mountain West Cooperative in Ronan.

In the Flathead Valley, bear managers have been attempting to trap and relocate two grizzly bear family groups that had been roaming in the Coram and Martin City areas, as well as a large male grizzly bear that has been around houses in the Blankenship area.

A female with two yearling cubs that were captured and relocated to the North Fork Flathead drainage last fall quickly returned to the Coram area and ended up denning in Glacier National Park.

After emerging from hibernation, the female dropped her radio collar in the Apgar Mountain range about a month ago.

“And the next thing you know we’re getting calls about these bears in Coram,” said Tim Manley, grizzly bear management specialist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The bears have been getting into chicken feed, bird seed and dog food — just as they did last year.

Another female grizzly with two 3-year-olds is suspected of being in the Martin City area, where Manley trapped all three last spring. They had been feeding on grass near homes.

On Sunday, Manley trapped one of the 3-year-old bears in Coram and that bear was moved to the Spotted Bear area on Tuesday.

He also caught two of the yearling bears in Coram this week and is attempting to lure their mother into a larger family trap. They likely will be moved to Spotted Bear as well.

“I think that basically, when there’s a heavy snowpack, the only places where things are greening up is in the valley bottoms,” Manley said. “The only reason we went to Spotted Bear was there wasn’t any other good place to release the bear because of all the snow in other places.”

Manley also has set up a trap in the Blankenship area where the large male grizzly has been seen several times near homes.

And on Thursday, an old male grizzly bear was struck by a train and killed on the northwest side of Whitefish Lake.

On Monday night, Manley and his colleague, Eric Wenum, were dispatched along with Sheriff’s personnel to Boulder Ridge Road just off Blackmere Lane for a report of a bear that had been trying to get into a house.

It turned out to be a black bear that was looking into windows. “But the bear wasn’t there when somebody got there,” he said, adding that a trap has been set for that bear as well.

Homeowners in rural parts of the valley are urged to secure their livestock as well as bird seed, pet foods, garbage or other items that might attract bears.

Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by email at jmann@dailyinterlake.com.

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